Top Ten Weaving Tips

Syne peeking out from the front of a loom towards the back while threading a red warp.

Bonnie Tarses just asked me what my top ten weaving tips are. I’d never thought about it before. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order I came up with:

  1. Experiment
  2. Keep records of the things you try; both the successes and the failures
  3. Take any workshop class that sounds vaguely interesting
  4. Consider warping as another hobby you enjoy
  5. Learn many different warping methods; all have their uses
  6. Figure out whether you’re happier ignoring mistakes or fixing them. And then do that.
  7. Set the loom up so it’s ergonomic for you; your body is the most precious weaving tool you own
  8. Be brave; modify your loom so it works better for you
  9. Use the good yarn, even when you’re just learning to weave. Time is precious and learning how to weave with crappy yarn only teaches you techniques for weaving with crappy yarn.
  10. If you weave something you hate; put it in a drawer until you forget about it. When you discover it later, you can appreciate it for what it is, having forgotten what you hoped it would be.

Looking at this list, it’s more about how to learn, rather than prescriptive “do this / not that” advice. And I like that. There are many ways to weave. I have my opinions about what works; others have theirs. What’s important to any given weaver is to discover what works for them, and I think the guidelines above will help you discover that for yourself.

And now I’m curious. If you’re a weaver, what are your top ten tips for weaving?

I’m Noticing a Pattern…

Alert: This post is about modifying patterns for panties, aka women’s underwear. There are no pictures of me wearing said undies, just paper patterns. However, if straight talk about how panties fit and terms like “crotch length” make you uncomfortable, bounce now. 

When you use a PDF pattern, you download it, print it out, and then tape it together at the indicated lines.

A cutting table with pattern pieces taped together to form a sewing pattern for a women's bikini-brief panty.

Note: Unless you’ve hung a projector from the ceiling to project the pattern onto the fabric (aka: paperless). I haven’t done that yet, though I have downloaded a 3D-printer file for a widget that mounts a projector to the ceiling. And I did have a conversation with my husband about how he feels about holes in the ceiling. So… 

Then you cut it out. 

The same pattern pieces as before, after having been cut apart with scissors.

I’ll save you some squinting, I cut on the size-18 line. This pattern goes up to size 20. If you’re more abundant than that, there is a sister pattern “Acacia Curve” that goes larger.

This pattern has a front, a gusset, and a back. The reason there’s a separate gusset is so you can make a “completely enclosed” gusset, where the seams on both ends of the gusset are covered (it happens during construction with some rolling and folding magic). This is in contrast to the “pocket gusset” which is attached to a front-middle combined piece, and has only one seam covered. If this explanation is fuzzy, wait for the next blog post in this series, which covers construction. It’ll be clearer there.

The first thing I did was make a pair of panties using the default Acacia pattern for my size in a test fabric with the same characteristics as my intended “fashion” fabric. They fit in the hips, but had the same too-long crotch problem as commercial underwear.

Seriously!?! I’m short waisted; does this mean I’m short-crotched as well? Are they even related? Wait—are they?!?

Emotional revelations aside, it was validating to discover that the fit issues I’d been having with underwear are because of assumptions about what’s “normal” and not just that I’m buying the wrong style or size.

So, with the undies on, I pinched off the amount of fabric I needed to take out of the center to bring the back down. It looked like about two inches, which would be a lot. So I decided to decrease the middle by about an inch instead.

Two versions of the front pattern piece of an women's bikini pattern. The top is an unaltered version of the pattern piece, the bottom has been cut shorter twice. The two cut-off pieces of paper are below the pattern piece so you can see where they were cut off from.

I remade the undies and tested them, and then decided to take another 3/4 inch off the front. 

Note: Yes, it hurts me not to use metric. I live in the U.S., however, where all the tools (and cutting mats) are imperial and have (mostly) given up the fight.

While I was taking off that extra 3/4 inch, I also took the seam allowance off the top and legs. It was in the way because I finished these hems with fold-over elastic, and I’d gotten tired of cutting it off.

I also decided that I’d rather have simpler construction and one less seam in a delicate area, so combined the front and gusset into a single piece. 

A combined front-and-gusset panty pattern piece. It is a single piece of paper on a cutting mat.

This third pair of test undies still rode up in the back by about an inch. However, there didn’t seem to be any more fabric to take out of the front or gusset, so I took an inch out of the back.

The back piece of a panty pattern. It has been sliced across two inches from the bottom seam and the bottom piece pulled up 1 inch to overlap and shorten the pattern piece.

And re-graded to smooth out the curve with a hip-curve tool.

Note: Funny fact, when I left the PhD physics program to briefly pursue an MFA in costume construction (long story) I took a pattern-drafting class, which I loved because it was precise and mathematical. So I have all the pattern-making tools, and some facility with drafting, and yet am a complete novice at, and totally intimidated by, actually sewing. This has confused people in the past.

Here is the re-graded back piece.

The shortened panty back pattern piece, with the curve at the "jog" where the piece was moved changed from a stair-step shape to a smooth curve.

One thing to note here, the version number written on the pattern. I was doing rapid iteration with multiple changes. Versioning each new pattern variation saved me from confusion and chaos. Highly recommend.

One more set of test undies, and… they fit! Perfectly. So extremely comfy and much more flattering than commercial panties. It’s like… (wait for it) … they were made for me. 😀

I was curious as to how much difference there was between the original pattern and what I’d ended up with, so I re-cut a new version of default Acacia, size 18, and laid it side-by-side with my final version.

Two sets of the panty pattern pieces laid side by side.

Huh. They don’t look that different.

So I turned the pieces around to measure the overall change in crotch length.

The pattern pieces from the previous image, rearranged so the difference in length is now evident.

Ah, there it is. What I’ve been complaining about. I had to reduce the overall crotch length by a whopping THREE INCHES to get them to fit me. That was three inches of wedgie built into every commercial pair of underwear.

Note: Sharp-eyed folks will see what looks like an extra 1/2 inch of difference. Remember that I removed 1/4 inch seam allowance from the waist of both the front and back pieces.

It is hard to explain how exultant I felt when I tried on the pair that finally fit. It is entirely possible that I high-fived myself in my studio. I may have done a dance of triumph in my undies. There were no cameras; the world will never know.

I traced the final pattern onto tag board. It’s a stiffer paper like that used in manilla folders, but has one side beige and one side green so you can immediately see if the pattern is right side up.

I then punched a hole in the pattern so I could put it on a hook and hang it from a rod (you can’t, and wouldn’t want to, fold tag board).

The final panty pattern, re-drawn on tag board. One piece has been flipped over so you can see that the reverse side is green.

Here’s a tip that I didn’t think of until too late. I should have punched the hole in the exact center-front of the panties. That would have made it easy to place the pattern over fabric and center a motif.

And while we’re talking tips. If you are going to be doing lots of iterations on small pattern pieces, an 18 x 24” sketchpad is a wonderful thing. The paper was durable and just the right size for laying out undies. Much easier than wrangling a roll of paper, or fighting with unfolded grocery bags.

A photo of a sketch pad for drawing. It is a 100-sheet pad that was manufactured by Strathmore. The paper type is fine tooth surface.

Having cleared the hurdle of creating a pattern that fits, I am ready to start creating panties in the fun fabric I’ve been saving for this moment.

I’ll talk about fabric choices and construction in the next blog post.

Enter the Coverstitch

The tricky thing about sewing knitwear is that the (most of) the stitches on a standard sewing machine won’t stretch enough to keep up with knit fabric. 

So the best way to seam knits is with a machine called a serger. If you look at the side seams of nearly any t-shirt, you’ll see what a serger seam looks like.

Serged seam being held in a hand, both sides of the looper-finished seam is showing because the fabric is folded back.

I bought a serger many years ago as one of my plans to “learn sewing for real this time.” (I’ve tried to “learn sewing” ever since I was in my teens. I make a concerted effort every decade or so, to little success.) These days, I mostly use my serger to finish off the raw edges of handwoven fabric before washing it.

I plan to use my serger for underwear construction

However, there are very few seams in underwear. What there are are a lot of hems. The waist and leg holes are essentially three long hems.

There are ways to make a standard sewing machine make a stretchy stitch: use a zig-zag or serpentine stitch or a twin needle and (depending on the stretch of your fabric) you might get stitches that won’t bind or break.

For a truly stretchy hem, however, the tool to have is a coverstitch machine. Turn up the hem of your t-shirt, you’ll a coverstitch hem.

Coverstitch tshirt hem held in a hand with both the double stitch and looper sides showing because the fabric is folded back.

I’d recently sold a loom, and putting the proceeds towards a coverstitch, trading one machine for another, seemed a worthwhile thing to do.

The first coverstitch machine I was interested in was a Babylock Coverstitch. Unfortunately, they’d just discontinued that model and none of the local stores had any left. Not wanting to risk learning on a used machine (how would I know if problems were me or the machine?) I asked what the new model from Babylock was.

“It’ll sew through anything,” the sewing machine saleswoman told me over the phone. “It’s all-metal construction.”

“It’s the size of a small car,” I said, looking at the Babylock website, and then at my modestly-sized sewing table.

“It sews like a dream, you’ll never regret it. And it’s on sale… ”

It was the pandemic, so I bought it without trying it out beforehand. (Something I do not, in general, recommend.)

What I came home with was the Babylock Euphoria. It is huge, it does only one thing, and it does it very, very well.


Only…now I had to learn how to use a coverstitch machine! 

YouTube came to the rescue: GingerHead and Co. and The Last Stitch have some great coverstitch videos. Johanna Lundström from The Last Stitch has a book, Master the Coverstitch Machine, that I am strongly considering buying. I’ve already found at least one of her offhand tips to have made the difference between fail and success with wooly-nylon thread.

And yet, I was intimidated. I didn’t know what tension to set the needles or loopers at, what stitch length to use, or how it sewed… or anything. 

However, I’d just given a seminar on using the scientific method for fiber arts. So I decided to follow my own advice and start by sampling, sampling, sampling. 

I created ‘research samples’, with no intention of creating anything other than information I could use as a reference later. That way, regardless of the result, it would be a success, because I’d learn something.

Pile of eleven samples of coverstitching attaching fold-over elastic to rayon-lycra fabric. The samples are labeled as to what the machine settings were: SL for stitch length, UT for upper tension, LT for lower tension, and DF for differential feed.

In experimentation, it’s good to change as few variables as possible at one time, so I established some guidelines: 

  • 95% rayon, 5% lycra fabric at 6oz weight
  • Fold-over elastic
  • Wooly-nylon thread in the looper

Note: The fabric I used for sampling is from a chopped up shirt, which is why you see other seams on the samples.

I chose the rayon/lycra because it’s soft next to the skin and is one of the standard fabrics carried by Knitorious, a fabric printing collective that takes pre-orders for fun geeky fabrics, has them printed, and then sends them out to folks.

Fold-over elastic is one of the easiest way to finish off hems on underwear. I decided to start with this because (a) I had a ton of it, bought from a local fabric store that went out of business and (b) easy is good.

Wooly-nylon thread in the loopers is often used in underwear and swimwear because it’s a fibrous thread that “fluffs out” after it’s stitched and is known for being next-to-skin soft. I like soft, so it seemed a good thing to do.

Because beige is not a color I typically wear, I used up my beige fold-over elastic when I started my experimenting. Then I had the fun discovery that I could write on the light-colored fold-over elastic with a Sharpie pen, making the samples self-referencing. Yay!

Close up of a sample that is folded so you can see both sides of the chainstitch. One side looks like regular stitches, the other side like a series of crocheted-together loops.

The first few samples I tried were scratchy, something I definitely did not want in the seams of my underwear. 

I experimented (changing one machine setting at a time) until I came up with the idea of using a chain stitch (a single-needle-and-looper stitch that looks like a regular straight stitch on one side and a series of knit loops on the other.) Since fold-over elastic does not have raw edges, this should work fine!

The settings that seemed least scratchy were: SL 1.0, UT 0, LT 3, DF N

SL stands for stitch length, UT for upper (needle) tension, LT for lower (looper) tension, and DF for differential feed (and N means neutral).

It produced a chain stitch which still had a bit of a scratchy rib on one side. If I put that ridge on the outside of the underwear: problem solved!

Turns out that was not the best stitch to use, as I discovered several pairs of underwear later…

My Quest for Comfortable Underwear

This is your content warning. In the blog post below, I use sewing terms, some of which would make an eight-grader snigger. Everything is safe-for-work… for most workplaces. If either of those make you uneasy, bounce now. 🙂

Most commercial underwear does not fit me. The two exceptions are some high-end French brands (that I can’t afford) and one pair of Maidenform-brand underwear that I found in the mid-1980s, now since lost to time.

The main problem is crotch rise. (Hey, you were warned!). That is, the length measured from center top front to center top back of underwear. Commercial underwear has a crotch rise that is too long for me. When I put a pair of bikini underwear on, the back rides up to my waist. If I pull up the front so the back fits, well, let’s just say things get extremely high-legged and frontal coverage diminishes. The fabric in the middle clearly needs to be shorter.

This has been an issue for me: All. Of. My. Life.

As in, everyday I’m wearing uncomfortable undies, no matter the size. Subjected to needless wedgies and bunching. It’s a small thing, and yet, it is wearisome. Every morning when I get dressed there’s a moment where I sigh and feel a tiny bit bad that my body doesn’t fit the world’s idea of what a body should look like.

Re-read that last sentence. 

Maybe it’s not such a small thing after all.

It’s not just underwear: my back length is about three inches shorter than “normal” which means t-shirts never hit my chest and hips at the right places, making me look sloppy and misshapen. I have a combination of bubble butt and small waist which means that denim jeans either fit my waist, or my butt, never both. Oh, and muscular “man calves” that powered years of roller derby, and yet mean I can’t find knee-length socks that will go over them, and even 90% of ankle-length socks have cuffs that are so narrow they cut off my circulation.

So getting dressed is a series of “you are not the right shape” messages, clothes that are uncomfortable, and which make my body look worse. Over decades, I won’t lie, it’s had an effect on my self-esteem and ease in what’s supposed to be my “second skin.”

And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I’ve always meant to learn how to sew. I bought stuff that would help me learn how to sew, and then got terrified of making mistakes and just went to Goodwill and tried on 300 items until I found some that kinda fit.

Enter the pandemic. Goodwill is not currently an option, and I have put on about 10 pounds sitting at home, stress eating. 

The underwear situation has become more dire. 

And so, my journey begins… I started by researching underwear patterns online. There are a lot of great indie pattern makers who sell PDF patterns that you download and print at home. Which makes me happy because: instant gratification, I can print multiple copies for chopping up and adjusting fit, and no need to venture out into the world.

Even better, a lot of indie pattern makers offer their undies for free, as a way to try out the quality of their patterns and instructions. 

Panty sewing begins! A sewing table strewn with printed pages of a PDF pattern arranged together to make a complete pattern for sewing panties. The pattern name is Acacia by Megan Nielsen.

Searching around on the internet, I found that a lot of people were making the Acacia pattern by Megan Nielsen, which is free if you sign up for the designer’s mailing list. Because it is so popular, there are a lot of tutorials for it on blogs and YouTube As a beginning sewist, having tutorials gave me confidence I would have the hand-holding to get me through this.

A Tip for Making N95 Covers

I’m not a very experienced seamstress. I am, however, making a lot of N95 covers at the moment and stumbled on a trick that works for me. And thought I’d share it.

One of the challenges for me is getting the pleats on either side sewn down, especially getting them both to be the same width at the end. This is because sewing downslope on the pleats.

Gives a smaller width that sewing the other direction (upslope). This is because the feed dogs on the sewing machine either compress (downslope) or expand (upslope) the pleats.

What I discovered is that if I fold the mask in the middle… I can check that the folds are the same size, and if not, adjust them so they are.

And then sew the second side downstream as well, by putting it into the sewing machine like so…

Ta-da! the pleated edges match!

My other tip, if you are making multiple masks, is to sew them right after the other, which saves thread between masks, and makes everything go quicker.

And my other, other tip is to add blue painter’s tape to your machine to mark off seam allowances, so you can sew them accurately. Here the edge of my blue tape is a 1/2-inch seam. (The line is a one-inch seam, left over from an upholstery project.)

Happy mask-making! And if you have any tips, please share them in the comments.

N95 Mask Cover Sew-Along

tldr; Got a sewing machine? Want to help? Please sew this N95 mask-cover pattern and then contact me through the Contact page on this website to coordinate delivery to UW Valley Medical Center by mail or pickup. I’ve also created a Facebook Group for this effort.

I have been talking directly with UW Valley Medical Center (here in the Seattle area) about a sew-along to make N95 mask covers to extend the life of the virus-filtering N95 masks.

This are the covers that go over the N95 masks, the covers that they (ideally) change between patients. Because it extends the life of something we know stops the virus I think it’d be more effective for doctors than a mask that tries to replace the N95.

This is what they said when I proposed the project to the UW Valley Medicine folks (

“What a great way to help extend N95 life, which we are preparing to deploy. Yes, these would be extremely useful! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Huge thanks for your support!


Note: The N95 cover is not the pattern they have posted on their website. That is for a general mask worn directly on the face. It will keep droplets off your nose and mouth, but is questionable about what benefit it adds in terms of protecting you from the virus.

I pitched the N95 cover to UW Valley Medicine instead for several reasons:

  • It extends the life of the N95 filters known to protect from the virus.
  • It does not use elastic, which makes it sanitization-friendly (elastic degrades with heat.)
  • It can also be used as a general mask if the N95 filters run out.

Because I’m a belt-and-suspenders kinda gal, I double checked with the UW Valley Medicine folks about which pattern I should organize around.

Here’s the email I just got:

“Morning Syne,

We are getting amazing community support for the general mask pattern on our website so would love for your group to focus on the N95 covers. Those will directly help our most frontline caregivers. Thanks so much for your support, it means the world to us!”

So we’re approved for this pattern:

I will personally do a (socially isolated) pickup of any set of masks of 10 or more in the Seattle/Tacoma area, if folks don’t want to go to the post office. (I mean, right now there are only 3 people offering to make these. If lots more join in, I reserve the right to modify this.) I am assuming that the delivery of requested medical supplies counts as an essential service.

I’m not a quilter, so I have only a modest amount of quilting fabric on hand. Though I know some quilting supply stores (like are still doing online sales.

Ping me through the Contact page on this website if you’re interested in helping out with this. 

I’ve also created a Facebook Group to share ideas, photos, and encouragement.

Thanks for considering it!


Jacquard Open Source Loom

So I wrote this book, Inventive Weaving, that’s all about pushing the boundaries of what you can do with a rigid-heddle loom. And yet… I never considered using one as inspiration for building a jacquard loom!

Fortunately, Kurt did. Whether or not you’re interested in ever making your own mini-jacquard loom, watch the following video. It’s 7+ minutes of funny, maker goodness.

Kurt’s not only shared his adventure with us, he’s open sourced the code. For more information, read his blog post on the topic: Making a DIY Computer Controlled Loom.

So cool I had to share it right away.

Teaching at ANWG in June

Now that I’ve left the tech world, one of the things I’m picking back up is teaching fiber arts at select venues. So I’m excited that I’ll be teaching in Prince George, British Columbia at the Association of Northwest Weavers’ Guilds conference on June 11th – 16th. I’m honored to be included among an amazing roster of instructors.

I’ll be presenting three fun topics, and since seminars are two hours long, I’m developing never-before-presented content which means a lot of exciting research for me! (I’m doing some things for the e-textiles class, especially, that fill me with squeee!)

Woven Shibori

This is a super-fun class taught on the rigid heddle. On the first day, we learn how to weave supplement wefts, sneakily picking up behind the heddle for efficiency. Then we pull the wefts taut, and overdye to create patterns like these.

Woven shibori samples

Right now the class only has 6 students, which means lots of individual attention and opportunity to ask questions.

In addition to the usual hand-on class work, I’m bringing a slide presentation on the history and traditions of shibori in Japan, modern trends in woven shibori, and using man-made threads with shibori to create pleats and other textured fabrics. This presentation is new, and I’m excited about the research (and the opportunity to use a new slide projector I bought for teaching.)

For more information, see the Woven Shibori write-up on the ANWG website, and if it’s something you want to do, there’s still time to register. In fact early-bird registration runs through April 15th.


Enhancing textiles through electronics: lights, sensors, motors, el-wire and… exciting new content I’ve never presented before! More than just a class on technology, we’ll talk about how to incorporate electronics in a way that enhances the design instead of just plopping an LED on top in an artless way.

When I signed up to teach this seminar, I assumed it was the usual one-hour talk. Afterwards I saw it was two hours! Which to be honest freaked me out a bit. Then I realized this was an opportunity to present two eTextiles classes in one! Which means I get to play with all the new technologies, including an area of fiber maker-y that I’ve just started experimenting with and which has me positively gleeful: 3D printing on fabric.

So come for the eTextiles, get inspired to bring your cloth and clothes to life. And get bonus content: 3D printing for textile artists, including free 3D printing patterns to make fiber tools: cone winder adaptor, lags for mechanical AVL dobbies, and more. Note, you do not have to have a 3D printer to print designs, I’ll talk about that as well.

There are 7 spots left available in this seminar, so if you’re intrigued, I’d recommend signing up soon. If you register by April 15th, you can get early bird pricing.

Inventive Weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom

If you’ve read my book, Inventive Weaving on a Rigid Heddle Loom, and wanted to touch the samples, or ask a question. This is your chance.

If you haven’t read my book, prepare to have your ideas about what’s possible on a rigid-heddle loom expanded. This book was my four-year exploration into applying everything I knew about weaving onto the rigid-heddle loom. And you know what? Most of it worked! Simple looms can do complex things.

There are 9 spots available in this talk, and if you register by April 15th… you guessed it, early bird pricing! It’ll save you $55 on the conference and/or $30 on workshops so it’s worth repeating. 🙂

Raffle Update

Thank you, everyone who’s contributed to the birthday blanket fundraiser! This is turning into my favorite birthday ever! I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see a good cause being supported.

So far we have 10 entrants, and have raised $715 for Doctors Without Borders!

The most common donation is $25, and there’s no minimum. If you want to enter, please give what feels comfortable. I know my birthday comes at an awkward, post-holiday-spending time and the government shut down is causing folks a lot of pain. So if you only have a couple of dollars to donate, that’s enough! …and if things are tighter than that, I feel for you; may things get better soon.

If you sent in an entry, you should have gotten an email “thank-you” message back from me directly. If you did not get one, please resend through the contact form on my website.

Someone asked when the raffle will end. I’ll take entries all the way until February 18. The drawing will happen on February 19th. For details on how to enter, see the original raffle post.

One last detail, if you were one of the people who sent in yarn back in 2009, I kept all the cards and envelopes and hope to send you a special thank you. Given how long this project has gone on, if you’ve changed mailing addresses since then, please drop me a note with your new address.